Joseph Nasi - Encyclopedia




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JOSEPH NASI (16th century), Jewish statesman and financier, was born in Portugal of a Jewish (Marano) family. Emigrating from his native land, he founded a banking house in Antwerp. Despite his financial and social prosperity there, he felt it irksome to be compelled to wear the guise of Catholicism, and determined to settle in a Mahommedan land. After two troubled years in Venice, Nasi betook himself to Constantinople. Here he proclaimed his Judaism, and married his beautiful cousin Reyna. He rapidly rose to favour, the sultans Suleiman and Selim promoting him to high office. He founded a Jewish colony at Tiberias which was to be an asylum for the Jews of the Roman Campagna. In 1566 when Selim ascended the throne, Nasi was made duke of Naxos. He had deserved well of Turkey, for he had conquered Cyprus for the sultan. Nasi's influence was so great that foreign powers often negotiated through him for concessions which they sought from the sultan. Thus the emperor of Germany, Maximilian II., entered into direct correspondence with Nasi; William of Orange, Sigismund August II., king of Poland, also conferred with him on political questions of moment. On the death of Selim in 1574, Nasi receded from his political position, but retained his wealth and offices, and passed the five years of life remaining to him in honoured tranquillity at Belvedere (Constantinople). He died in 1579. His career was not productive of direct results, but it was of great moral importance. It was one of the tokens of the new era that was to dawn for the Jews as trusted public officials and as members of the state.

See Graetz, History of the Jews (Eng. trans.), vol. iv. chs. xvi.- xvii.; Jewish Encyclopedia, ix. 172. (I. A.)

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